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A Maori Maid

Chapter XXXI

page 265

Chapter XXXI.

Cyril had recovered. He was leaving within a day or two for town.

It was in the evening, a soft spring evening just after dinner, and it chanced that Cyril and Ngaia were alone.

It was through no wish on the girl's part. Daisy had been with them and had suddenly left them together.

Very naturally since the afternoon when Cyril had made his declaration of love to her Ngaia had avoided his company as much as possible. She wanted to forget and to help him to forget. She had not even mentioned the episode to her lover. It seemed to her scarcely honourable to do so.

Something in Cyril's manner now warned her that he was about to renew the distasteful, painful subject of his love for her. Nor were her fears ill-founded. Cyril, in fact, had no intention of taking her first "no" for a final answer.

"Ngaia," he said, "I'm off in a couple of days."

She made no answer.

"Are you sorry?" he asked. "Ah! you don't say anything. You're not half as sorry that I'm going from you as I am that I'm leaving you. Do you remember," he continued, "what I said to you the other day? I love you, Ngaia, and I want you to be my wife. I—"

Ngaia drew back a pace from him.

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"Cyril, you're not to speak like that. I told you not to. It's impossible. I said so. It is; indeed it is. Can't you believe me?"

"It's no reason to say it's impossible. Why should it be impossible? Why, I say; why should it be?"

"Because—because I don't care for you sufficiently. There, Cyril, that's surely enough. I'm very sorry if I have caused you pain. There are many much better girls than I am. Forget all about me and—and please let me pass," she continued as Cyril placed himself between her and the door.

"I won't," he said bluntly, "I won't. I want you to give me a reason. It's nonsense to say you don't care for me. You haven't led me to think that until just now. Besides, we would get on together first-rate, I'm sure. Look here, Ngaia," he continued, and his voice was beautifully soft and gentle, "be reasonable. I tell you what. We can go off down to Wellington together. Once we get there we can get married, and I'll write and tell the old man. He likes you. The old lady doesn't. Besides, she wants me to marry some swell, you know. She's an old cat and she might make a bother just out of spite to you. We'll tell her when it's too late. Come, now, say 'yes.'"

He stepped forward and caught her hand.

She snatched it from him, and the quick, contemptuous way in which she did so warned him how angry she was. She had failed to see the treachery of his plan or even to suspect it. But she realised his idea of her social inferiority and she resented it.

"Thank you," she said, "thank you very much for your condescending to make me such an offer. You think Mrs. Anderson would disapprove of your marrying me; wants you to marry some grand lady; would think me unfit for you. Perhaps she's right. Very likely she is, only it's all the more reason against our marriage and not an argument in its favour. I toldpage 267you it was impossible and I tell you so again. And now will you please let me pass?"

"No, no. Wait a minute, Ngaia. You're just quite wrong. I never meant that you were not good enough for me. Of course you are. At any rate I think so, whatever any one else does. Besides, you'll be far happier with me than you are here. I know how my mother treats you. It's a shame. We'd be happy together and once we were married I'd settle down to real hard work. Come, Ngaia, come. Say 'yes.' Once in Wellington, heigho for a long, bright life. Never mind the governor or any one else. It's just a question of our going off together quietly. You'd be able to live in town. You only vegetate here. Say you'll come, Ngaia, say you'll come."

He moved towards her. Ngaia stepped back, her hands clenched, her eyes sparkling in her anger.

"I've answered you, Cyril, and you ought to take my answer. It's not as if yours were an open and honest offer. I don't quite understand what you want me to agree to, but I do know that I not only don't like you well enough but I don't trust you because you won't trust your parents. Now please let me pass, at once."

"I won't. It's ridiculous. You've got to listen to reason. You don't know what's for your own good. You're to promise to come with me."

"Oh!I Indeed you are a coward. Because I'm almost friendless and only a girl you threaten me. Do you really think you can frighten me into marrying you? You must be mad, I think."

"Perhaps I am. I'm madly in love with you, and, by God, you don't leave here until you promise!"

"You won't let me go? Very well then," she added, and before Cyril could prevent her she had pressed the button of the bell.

He was worsted. He stepped aside, and she passed out, not deigning so much as to look at him.

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"D—n you!" he muttered, and the inclination upon him was to seize her with all her marvellous beauty and at any cost and at all hazard to steal a kiss. As it was he simply turned back to the table and poured out some brandy.

Presently, what with excitement and weakness, the spirit had mounted to his head and he was tipsy.

Then he decided to go down to the Quarters.

As he passed the yards he caught sight of two figures by the gate. He drew nearer and presently he was standing unseen in the shadow of the woolshed watching Ngaia and Archie—and listening.

Ngaia, when she left Cyril, turned into the hall and was about to pass upstairs when she heard her name called. It was Archie. He caught her by the arm.

Her impulse was to run from him. She had no wish to tell her lover of Cyril's behaviour. She had a dread for the possible consequences.

But Archie held her.

"Just the very person I'm looking for," he said. "Why, you're crying. What—? Come along with me, Ngaia. I want to have a talk with you."

She made some excuse.

"Nonsense. Come along," he replied, not unkindly but more firmly than he was wont to speak to her.

She had no power to resist.

They walked out into the evening down to the sheepyards and neither of them spoke. He was very serious. Something in his voice warned her of that.

At the gateway he stopped. He turned round.

"Ngaia, what is the matter?"

She was silent.

Archie watched her intently, and had she raised her eyes she would have seen the pain upon his face. She had turned the young fellow from a wild, impulsive, thoughtless youth into a lover with an overwhelming eagerness to stand, so far as she would allow him,page 269between her and any danger or trouble. He asked her softly again and yet again, until at last she spoke, and told him just briefly in a few words.

He was silent. There was not a motion, not a sound, save only a hard, deep-drawn breath.

"Tell me all Cyril told you," Archie said gently, and these were the first words Cyril heard.

She told him everything.

Knowing full well Cyril's evil reputation Archie had little doubt as to the true meaning of his proposal. It was not marriage. It was ruin, it was dishonour he was plotting. And against a gentle, innocent, helpless girl; against the being who, to him at least, was the supremest creature in all the world. Plotting her ruin, her misery, her shame. Planning for her a lifetime of degradation and of evil, merely for his own selfish pleasure.

"Do you care for him, Ngaia?" he asked.

"Archie!" she exclaimed reproachfully. "You know I don't. Not even a little bit now, and never once as I do for you. I—I love no one in the world but you— unless Miss Spence and Mr. Anderson; and they're different, aren't they?"

Archie's answer was to draw the girl to him and press his lips to hers.

Cyril both heard and saw. It angered him, it maddened him. The tipsy fool became a drunken brute—more brute than drunk. He stood with clenched hands listening, listening, listening.

He heard Archie speak.

"I scarcely meant my question, sweetheart. I know you care for me, just as I do for you. But, Ngaia, you must have nothing more to do with Cyril. He's a thoroughly bad man. He's a cruel, crafty blackguard, who has been lying to you. It's not because I hate him, although I do, and it's not that I want to paint the fellow blacker than I need. He is Mr. Anderson'spage 270son after all. But you ought to know the kind of man he is, and I tell you he's a liar and a low scoundrel."

Cyril heard.

Tipsy, mad with jealousy and passionate anger, he approached the two young people.

The word "liar" was singing in his ears. He attacked Archie—verbally—and presently Ngaia also. She heard his foul words, and she slowly realised.

Was this the man for whom she had once felt pity, felt compassion, felt even a liking? Whilst she had been striving for his sake, and had been nursing and tending him, he had been thinking only evil of her and plotting her destruction.

It was inhuman; it was atrocíous.

She shrank back in amazement and horror.

Archie could tolerate with patience the young blackguard's attack upon himself. His drunken abuse he could to a certain extent excuse. But when Cyril commenced his onslaught upon the girl he had overstepped his limit. The foul words, the filthy innuendoes, were barely from his mouth when he reeled into the darkness, and fell.

"Archie, Archie! What have you done?"

"Not much."

Not sufficient even to prevent Cyril, maddened with passion and drink, from staggering to his feet and rushing at Archie.

A short struggle ensued, and Archie was master. But a brief space, and Cyril Anderson had received his first thorough thrashing. Bruised, bleeding, and dazed, he was left to crawl, cursing and blaspheming, to his room.